YouTubers keep playing Plague Inc. to try and simulate how coronavirus will spread across the world, even though the company behind the game has stressed it’s ‘not a scientific model’

MessYourself Gaming playing Plague Inc. MessYourself Gaming / YouTube

When the coronavirus first entered the news cycle at the beginning of the year, people around the world started playing an old game again called Plague Inc.

It’s a strategy game where the player is tasked with destroying humanity with a disease.

People thought it would be fun to see if they could wipe out everyone on Earth with their made-up virus by inputting some basic information they knew about coronavirus, like coughing and pneumonia symptoms and how it spreads through animals. It ended up reaching the top spot on Apple’s App Store charts, and subsequently got banned in China.

Many YouTubers have also downloaded the game and uploaded their attempts of human erasure. A search for “coronavirus Plague Inc” brings up hundreds of results from the last few weeks from creators from several different countries including MessYourself Gaming, The Soviet Gaming Mobile, and Duygu Köseoğlu.

Some have been viewed hundreds of thousands of times, and many succeed in their mission of killing the human population.

YouTuber D’Angelo Wallace commented on the trend in a video where he read out some of the main concerns, including questions over whether it was ethical to make light of a virus that has killed over 3,000 people so far.

“Instead of making some sort of criticism or critique or even commentary on this coronavirus, the only thing these YouTube videos are really doing is causing even more people to panic,” he said, going on to fact check beliefs about how the virus is spreading and how deadly it is.

The spike in people playing Plague Inc. prompted its creator James Vaughan to put out a statement saying the outbreak was “deeply concerning.”

He said Plague Inc. has been around for eight years now and an outbreak of disease always leads to more downloads as people “seek to find out more about how diseases spread and to understand the complexities of viral outbreaks.”

“We specifically designed the game to be realistic and informative, while not sensationalizing serious real-world issues,” he said. “This has been recognised by the CDC and other leading medical organisations around the world.”

He added that everyone playing the game should remember it is just that – “a game, not a scientific model.”

“The current coronavirus outbreak is a very real situation which is impacting a huge number of people,” he said. “We would always recommend that players get their information directly from local and global health authorities.”

Mental health expert Michelle Colder Carras, who specialises in video game use, told Business Insider in a previous article she isn’t surprised Plague Inc. is very popular right now. Disaster simulators can give players a kind of “exposure therapy,” giving them a sense of control over the situation, she said.

Studies are also increasingly showing that video games can act as a form of therapy for people with mental health conditions, the article continues.

According to Colder, “It’s certainly possible that people are playing [Plague Inc.] as a way to work through anxiety or put things into perspective.”

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